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To the sights and sounds of a ship approaching dock, the Hale Centre Theatre’s stage rose up, filling the audience and the stage with fog and crashing drums. Tired, dirty, scroungy-looking men pantomime rowing a boat, watched closely by two officers. One man is wrenched from his seat on the boat, given papers and told that even though he is out of prison, he is not free.
The Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City is performing the Broadway and Hollywood spectacular “Les Miserables” now through April 19. Nearly every showing is sold out, but some tickets are still available. After experiencing the production for myself, I can see why tickets are all but gone.
The onstage characterization of each character was perfect. Often when I see “Les Miserables” performed, Marius and Cosette are unrealistic and boring. All of the sudden, just because they bumped into one another in the street, they’re head-over-heels for each other. They’re so much in love that they’re both utterly distraught when Valjean says that he and Cosette are leaving Paris, even though they only just met. In Hale Centre’s production of “Les Miserables,” I completely bought into the love story. I could see the giddy, silly twitterpated love of “A Heart Full of Love,” but I could also see how Marius and Cosette’s relationship progressed, moving from twitterpated to a more mature affection by the time Valjean and Marius have their tete-a-tete.
Another characterization I really enjoyed was Eponine. In the versions I’ve seen, especially the Hollywood version that came out last year, it’s really common for Eponine to be this poor, woebegone ragamuffin. While it’s pretty obvious that she is poor in a monetary sense, I never felt like Eponine was poor in a moral sense. It didn’t seem logical that she could have survived in the environment she grew up in and be so weak as to mope after Marius the way she does in the movie.
I was very impressed with Anna Daines Rennaker and her performance of Eponine. She had that perfect balance of sweet and soft with sassy and tough. Her performance of “On My Own” was magical; she had me sitting on the edge of my seat as I watched one of the tougher characters in “Les Miserables” be so vulnerable.
Another thing I really enjoyed about the Hale Centre’s production of “Les Miserables” was the staging. The Hale Centre Theatre’s stage is round, meaning that there are seats on all sides of the stage. In the barricade scene, the men and women were evenly yet sporadically spaced around the stage. This was also true during “Master of the House.” This irregular yet balanced arrangement of actors allowed the audience to experience the show as if they were at the front of the stage, looking cast members straight in the face rather than seeing them at an angle, as can happen with a traditional stage.
One of the things I wasn’t completely sold on was the music. Don’t get me wrong, the music was phenomenal for the most part, but there were a few weak spots.
For example, it seemed like the actors were half a beat behind the music a few times during the show, especially in high-action scenes. I could tell at points that the actors were purposefully slightly behind the music track. For the most part, that was very effective, giving the music a more thoughtful or otherwise emotional meaning, but it didn’t always work.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the Hale Centre Theatre’s production of “Les Miserables.” The only thing I didn’t love about the show was the ticket price. But, like the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. While the ticket price was high and seats were sparse, this production of “Les Miserables” was well worth every inconvenience.